On new podcast, Bill Gates talks COVID-19 with Dr. Fauci, masks vs. nudists, and a plan to hug Bono

Bill Gates and Rashida Jones found a way to bring a little levity to a subject that’s beyond tough these days as they opened their new limited-run podcast series with an episode about COVID-19.

“Bill Gates and Rashida Jones Ask Big Questions” is a pairing between the Microsoft co-founder and the actor/activist known for roles on “Parks and Recreation” and “The Office.” GeekWire got an early listen to Monday’s first episode, titled “What will the world look like after COVID-19?” and featuring Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease specialist, as first guest.

Jones had several big questions for Gates and Fauci as she drove the discussion with an everywoman approach to better understanding whether we have anything left to look forward to, how vaccines will get distributed, what life is going to be like after the pandemic and just what Gates will do when it’s safe to do anything again.

“What’s the first thing you’re gonna do?” Jones asked Gates, after they discussed the fact that positive news about a vaccine is something to be optimistic about.

“There’s some people that it would be nice to see,” Gates replied. “We do a lot of our foundation work with Bono, and he’s always very affectionate and energetic,” he said of the philanthropic frontman for the rock band U2. “There’s some people on video, the emotional connection isn’t as strong.”

“You’re gonna go hug Bono? That’s the first thing you’re gonna do?” Jones asked.

“Absolutely,” Gates said.

And with that, “Ask Big Questions” telegraphed a bit of the banter listeners can likely expect as Jones steers Gates through weighty subject matter and plays off his desire to come across as an approachable version of a billionaire software geek.

Gates touched on many of the themes and points he’s been making in numerous media and speaking engagements since the early days of the pandemic. But the episode leaned less on the science of Gates’ involvement and more on his perspective around how people are handling such things as technology, education and isolation, and it looked forward via Gate’s expectations for what the world will ultimately look like if it ever gets back to “normal.”

Bill Gates during a 2017 meeting with Dr. Anthony Fauci, right, at the National Institutes of Health. (Flickr Photo / NIH Image Gallery)

Fauci, another rock star in Gates’ eyes who does it with science and not music, helped do some of the heavier lifting. He said the U.S. is “not in a good place” when it comes to public trust for an eventual vaccine because there is a “baseline level of anti-vaccination that goes back before COVID-19” and is rooted in attitudes not based on science but on falsified data.

Fauci discussed how vaccine prioritization might play out in the U.S. in regard to who will get doses first; he said wealthier countries have an obligation to the global community and that’s why multiple vaccines is a good thing; and he reiterated that masks, avoiding crowds and washing hands are still tried and true ways to stay healthy.

Gates couldn’t help but remain puzzled by the resistance by some in the U.S. to wearing masks.

“The idea that somebody’s resisting wearing a mask, that is such a weird thing to me,” he said. “I mean, what are these nudists? We ask you to wear pants and very few Americans say that that’s like some terrible thing.”

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Beyond mask resistance, Gates said he and Fauci are both enthused by treatments that will reduce the COVID death rate and the progress on vaccines, with the U.S. stepping up to lead the charge on research.

“It seems weird in a very tough time, but I think we’re both trying to deliver a bit of a hopeful message about the tools that are coming along,” Gates said.

Borrowing a page from the eternally optimistic Gates, Fauci had advice for those feeling fatigue from the prolonged crisis.

“Don’t give up,” Fauci said. “This is going to end. Science is going to help us.”

“Bill Gates and Rashida Jones Ask Big Questions” is available on Apple Podcasts, on Gates’ personal blog, Gates Notes, and everywhere else you listen to podcasts. Episodes drop every Monday until Dec. 23. See a list of episodes and guests in this GeekWire story.

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